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We all know the stereotype of the basement-office, introverted information technology worker. But some large law firms are exploding that cliche by having more and more of their IT professionals work directly � even full-time � with clients. Of course, many large firms have litigation support teams that sometimes work directly with clients on discovery issues. Wisconsin-based Foley & Lardner is one firm that takes it a step further. There, technology consultant Charlotte Logullo’s time is largely devoted to working with clients to set up secure online Web sites, or extranets. In addition to housing vast amounts of data, they also allow for things like conference calls � complete with idea “white-boarding.” These days, extranets are created for all kinds of legal work. “It’s pretty much every area � litigation, real estate, labor and employment, and business, like mergers and acquisitions,” Logullo said. But at least two California-based firms, Fenwick & West and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, employ full-time tech staff whose sole job is to work with clients. Given that the relationships between a firm and its corporate clients are always in danger of strain because of fee increases, it can be a good investment for firms to offer extra tech services, consultants say. “It’s an opportunity for the law firm to further cement their relationship with their clients and demonstrate their technical savvy,” said Deborah Novachick, president of San Francisco’s Strategic Automation Consulting, which works with law firms on technology. Offering these high-tech services also lets firms diversify the menu of options for clients, she added. Some firms, like Orrick, even package and market their technology services to non-clients, making a revenue-generating side business. A GROWING TEAM The full-time tech staffers at Fenwick and Orrick chiefly help clients handle electronic discovery during litigation; create extranets (Fenwick says it has done thousands); and set up data-retention programs, which help companies figure out when to permanently delete old documents and e-mail. “The clients demanded it,” said Brad Bonnington, a member of Fenwick’s practice support team. “We needed to be a step ahead of other firms.” That client-focused team at Fenwick has actually been in place for six years, but has expanded from two members to eight. Four of them attend to clients full-time. Clients’ e-discovery demands really pushed the effort forward through the years, said Kevin Moore, information technology director at Fenwick and head of its practice support team. Bonnington and Moore say Fenwick’s team can analyze huge amounts of discovery data in-house, where most firms of similar size rely on third parties to handle that aspect of e-discovery. “It significantly reduces cost,” Bonnington said. Plus, he added, clients feel safer about their data when it’s handled by the firm that’s working on its other matters. Through the years, Moore has been part of client pitch meetings, and his work collecting e-discovery data from companies has taken him across the country and to China and Europe. Generally, Fenwick’s practice support team members work with clients over the phone. While the firm encourages them to interact directly with clients, “it’s all under the direction of partners,” Bonnington said. Bonnington said he enjoys being able to talk with clients because then he has a better idea of what’s to come on a project. There are no surprises. No one unexpectedly plops a big hunk of data in his lap. “I don’t get blindsided by attorneys,” he said. MORE THAN A HELP DESK Orrick has one full-time employee who attends to client tech needs: Clark Cordner was recently hired away from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr and previously worked as a tech consultant for law firms in Silicon Valley. Cordner’s official title is director of practice and client services, and he supervises a staff of 12, who split their time attending to the firm’s and the clients’ needs. “I’ve always organized my teams as consulting operations,” and much more than a help desk, said the Washington, D.C.-based Cordner, a non-practicing attorney. “They’re not just back-office IT support. They’re out working directly with the clients.” Orrick has gone beyond extranets, e-discovery and data management � it’s begun selling its “global secretary” program to non-client companies. For this, Orrick tracks deadlines and can handle a company’s run-of-the-mill legal housekeeping work, such as government filings in various jurisdictions and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “It’s actually a great play for the law firms,” Cordner said. “You get a much deeper appreciation of your client’s processes. You can identify more ways you can help them.” To work well on these client-focused teams, it takes a certain combination of skills. Sometimes knowledge of legal processes is even more valuable than technical know-how. “I can teach technology,” Cordner said. “I look for people that understand what it means to operate under a court-imposed deadline.” Oftentimes top candidates are attorneys in alternative career tracks, or paralegals who might want to expand their skills, he said. They need “good customer service skills,” said Fenwick’s Moore. “There are a lot of people who would be great,” Bonnington added, “but not with customers.”

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